Perk up your PC

There’s an old novelty song about a guy who hears a noise downstairs in his house. He calls out: “Who’s that down there?” He does this several times (to music, of course), and we hear a fainter voice call back: “Who’s that up there?”

This is the way we’ve always felt about programs running in the background of our computer. A staggering 65 per cent of all computer problems, both home and business, are not caused by faulty hardware or invading viruses but by background tasks installed by legitimate software. What is all that stuff? And what is it doing down there?

Usually, nothing. The most grievous offenders on Bob’s machine were Microsoft and America Online. They both loaded a lot of background junk, all in the name of helping you work better. Most of the AOL junk came from its latest version, No. 9, and so, we were advised, many AOL users switch back to using version 8. Microsoft, of course, always wants to update your Windows system and fix security holes, but some of these updates have caused new problems and opened new security holes.

Here’s how we found out: We got a program called The Ultimate Troubleshooter, or TUT for short, at There’s a demo version, but we couldn’t do anything with it until we paid the US$29 fee to register. Then Joy found she had more than 70 programs running in the background on her computer, and Bob had more than two dozen on his. These programs slow down the machine and waste a lot of memory, sometimes as much as 90 per cent of the available RAM. They are also the cause of most users’ complaints and frustration.

When TUT recognizes a program running in the background, it provides a description and recommendation at the bottom of the screen. If it doesn’t recognize the program, it says so in the same message box and asks you to send the name back to TUT for its own research files; then it’s your own decision on whether to chop the program or keep it.

TUT offers a little extra advice as well. It’s much the same as we have said here many times: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In other words, if the system is operating smoothly, don’t make changes.

The source of nearly all unknown background programs is new software you’ve loaded into the machine. Almost every problem we’ve ever had with our computers has come after loading new software. Most new software has bugs, and in fact, the makers usually know it has bugs when they ship it out. On top of that, many programs install a sentinel that runs constantly in the background. They all think you want their program to be available instantly. Well, as to that: TUT, tut.

Not a joyfull experience

So Joy got this new Laplink program called PCmover for moving all your files and programs from an old computer to a new computer. Now moving files is no problem; a child could do it. (In fact, a child might do it better.) But moving whole programs – that’s the trick, all right.

Too bad the program didn’t work. For a US$40 download from, you get a one-time moving experience. You load the software onto both machines. Then everything you want to transfer loads onto a cute image of a moving van on the screen. You connect the old and new computers together by cable, external drive or network, and you see the moving van waiting to be unloaded. It seems simple, but like most moves, things don’t work out exactly as expected.

The first clue there might be something wrong was when it took just under three hours to load 29 gigabytes into the “van.” Joy used a Maxtor One Touch drive as the common carrier, so to speak. Unloading the van, however, was going to take a whopping 94 hours, a message on the screen said. That would put it at just under four days. It reminded us of the last moving company we used.

We had three conversations with tech support and, following all their advice, tried it again. This time we got a message saying that our 29 gigabytes had now expanded to 182 gigabytes and over a million files. At this rate, we were going to be transferring files till the new computer was obsolete.

Laplink has been in the business of making file-moving software since Bill Gates was in diapers, so you wouldn’t think it would mess up like this. But it’s goodbye and good luck to this Laplink product, and once again this shows that the strategy of “just move the product out the door” may need some revision. What a bummer.

So how do you move programs from an old computer to a new one after you’ve lost the installation discs? Aloha Bob from works fairly well. Or you can go on eBay and buy old versions of some of your favorite software. Our favorite greeting card program, PrintMaster, sells for less than US$5, as do many others.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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